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Meghan's story

‘And it became increasingly obvious to me that the thing that – I have come to terms with my abuse a long time ago – well, what I have never really been able to come to terms with was the part society played – or didn't play, I guess, being the point. You know, the people turning the blind eye, the people not recognising things when they were in a position that they should have been educated to recognise. People not wanting to listen. People putting their own businesses, or money, or schools, above the health and wellbeing of a child. These are the things that I find really hard to forgive.’

Meghan suffered child sexual abuse in three distinct ways: as a victim herself, as a witness to the abuse of others and as the mother of a victim.

The abuse began at a Catholic primary school when Meghan was five years old. One of the boys in the class led his gang of friends to assault her almost on a daily basis. Meghan was too scared and confused to tell anyone about it until the day the boys started abusing her friends too.

‘For some reason hurting others made it worse for me. I was able to stand up and say, well, they’re my friends. I went to the teacher and said, “Miss, Nathan Angell is showing everyone his penis”. And I got in trouble.’

Meghan tried several more times to report the abuse and always received the same dismissive, angry response.

‘And once again the child who was already blaming herself for all these things had an adult put that on her, reinforce it.’

By 14, Meghan was suffering panic attacks. Frightened of further abuse, she started dressing shabbily to make herself unattractive to any would-be attackers. Unfortunately ‘it didn’t work’. One night a group of girls dragged her into a situation with some older boys. ‘Things happened that I didn’t have a voice to say no to. And at that point I’d come to accept that it was better to just do what they want rather than have it forced.’

Rumours of the incident spread through Meghan’s Catholic high school and eventually reached the principal. Meghan was called into the principal’s office and told that because of her behaviour she would have to leave the school. She was given no chance to explain.

So Meghan arrived at her new public high school a nervous, fragile 15-year-old who was convinced that no adult would ever believe a word she had to say. Looking back now, she can see how her teacher, Mr Daniels, spotted these vulnerabilities and began to exploit them.

‘Halfway through Year 9 came he had complete control over me. … It was because he was able to fake empathy for my situation that nobody had ever tried to do before. It was all I needed, was someone to reach out to say “I know you’re not the bad kid everybody labels you as”. And that’s what he did. But he did it for his own means.’

Soon Meghan was spending most of her school days and all of her weekends with Mr Daniels. Shortly after her 16th birthday he began sexually abusing her. A few months later she moved into his flat.

The arrangement was far from secret yet only a few people voiced concerns. Scared of alienating her, Meghan’s parents decided not to report the matter to police or welfare and instead approached the school principal. The principal minimised the issue, saying that Mr Daniels was doing a lot of good for Meghan. Later another teacher at the school made some complaints and was labelled incompetent then forced to transfer to another school.

Meanwhile Mr Daniels became increasingly violent and controlling. He would throw things at Meghan, track her movements constantly and keep her from seeing her friends. Years went by. Then one day Meghan learned about Mr Daniels’ money problems and this gave her the psychological boost she needed to make her escape. ‘Something in me just went, “Right, you can’t blame me for that”. And I was able to run.’

She thought about reporting Mr Daniels to police but then one day he phoned her up and threatened to kill her and her family. From then on, Meghan decided to keep her mouth shut.

She moved back home with her parents and spent the next six months hiding in her bedroom, battling intense panic attacks. Eventually she pulled herself together and started to build a new life.

Meghan got a teaching job in a small school. The school was run by a man named Peter Hawkins who was a vibrant and charismatic leader. At first Megan was thrilled with the new opportunity. Then a co-worker, Gina, came to her asking for help because she had found child pornography on Hawkin’s computer.

‘She said, “I made him delete it”. I said, “You idiot. You should have left it and made a phone call”. Anyway I rang DOCS to get advice.’

The officer told Meghan that DOCS could only take action if Gina spoke to them directly. But Gina refused to get on the phone so that was the end of the matter. From then on Meghan watched Hawkins closely, afraid of what he might do to the students.

Her fears were quickly justified. Meghan witnessed Hawkins touching some of the students inappropriately. These were girls aged between 10 and 12. When she confronted him about it, Hawkins said he was just being ‘affectionate’. She confronted him again and again. The argument went on for years and eventually Meghan quit.

A short while later Meghan discovered that Hawkins had been molesting some of the girls in more extreme ways than she had suspected. She asked one girl about it and the girl broke down in tears. Several other girls came forward. Meghan went to the police who began an investigation. Then everything fell apart. The police failed to record their first round of interviews and wanted to start again. This proved too stressful for the girls and they withdrew their complaints.

Meghan tried to put the matter behind her and get on with life, looking after her young son, Harry. When Harry was very young his behaviour changed suddenly and he became uncommunicative. He was diagnosed with autism. Several years later Meghan discovered how wrong the diagnosis had been when Harry disclosed to her that he’d been sexually abused.

Meghan immediately reported the matter to police and took Harry to a psychologist who diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder. Harry’s behavioural issues improved significantly once he’d made the disclosure and received a proper diagnosis.

Meghan had many observations to make based on her multi-faceted experience with abuse. She would like to see better education for doctors, counsellors and psychologists to minimise the risk of misdiagnosing kids like Harry. She would like to see schools better regulated and teachers better educated about their responsibilities to protect children.

Meghan’s focus now is not on the perpetrators – who she believes are simply sick – but rather on the teachers, parents and other adults who can and should work harder to keep children safe.

‘The people who had the ability to do something about it and chose not to, they are the people that I have the more anger for.’

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